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#BigasHindiBala: A National Fact-Finding and Humanitarian Mission in Kidapawan City

On April 4-6, 2016, a  National Humanitarian and Fact-Finding Mission (NHFFM) was conducted to independently investigate the violent dispersal of protesting farmers which led to the killing of 2 farmers, wounding and illegally arrested and detained numerous individuals, including women, children and elderly.

Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) participated in coordination with  Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous People and Peasants (SAGIPP), and the regional chapters of Bayan, KARAPATAN and KMP in Southern Mindanao,  Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) and the United Methodist Church.

There were 27 delegates including lawyers, paralegals, doctors and counselors, from the following organizations: KARAPATAN, KMP, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Iglesia Filipino Independiente, Health Action for Human Rights, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Katribu, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy, National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Center for Women’s Resources, and Anakbayan Journalists from Altermidya, Tudla Productions, and Ucan also joined in the delegations.

The team conducted an onsite investigation. Series of interviews with the victims and  their families were conducted. Those who were arrested and detained were visited to check on their conditon and document possible human rights violations commited against them. Wounded victims detained at hospitals were likewise visited and interviewed. Many of the victims willingly executed sworn statements describing their experiences and ordeals before, during and after the April 1, 2016 incident.The CRC Information and Publicity staff Eule Rico Bonganay together staff of CRC Southern Mindanao Regional office, in particular, facilitated a psychosocial debriefing session for the children traumatized by the violent dispersal. At the same time, a debriefing session for adults  was facilitated by sisters and teachers of Ateneo de Davao University.

At the beginning, CRC had a difficulty in convincing children, especially the older kids,  to participate in the activity. CRC was also informed that most of the children were sent home immediately after the violent dispersal. After almost ten minutes, CRC have gathered around 40 children.

Since it would be the first time for the children to undergo a debriefing session, most of them were shy at first while a number of children just stayed at the corner watching the activity. Nonetheless, CRC staff continued the activity and did not compel them to participate.

After few recreational games, CRC staff and volunteers were able to build rapport with the children.

The children were divided into small groups for the finger-tracing activity. Children were encouraged to present their output. As a result, CRC was able to get relevant information about the background of the children participants. Most of the children come from different towns of North Cotabato with agriculture as their main source of income. At the same time, children said that they have been suffering from hunger for months due massive drought in their communities.

Most of their parents have decided to look for odd jobs in order to earn money and to provide for their needs. Children even shared that they have been helping their parents in order to augment their families’ income with some of them, even at their early age, working as farm laborers.

It was also in the finger tracing activity when children explained why they travelled to Kidapawan. According to them, they participated in the protest rally, together with their parents, to voice out their situation and demand the government to provide farmers with rice subsidy. They were informed that the government has already allotted financial assistance to the farmes but since the drought broke, they haven’t received any help from the concerned government agencies.

During the finger-tracing activity, many children claimed that what they have been doing in the protest was peaceful. Prior to the violent dispersal, there were attempts from the local government units to convince the farmers to leave the area. However, during negotiations, the farmers made it clear to the authorities that they would only stop the vigil if the government give assistance to the farmers.

Some of the children have turned emotional when they shared what they have witnessed during the violent dispersal. They were all convinced that the police were the ones who started the violence by hitting farmers prompting the protesters to retaliate. However, when the SWAT started shooting the farmers, most of them ran towards the church compound. Some of them were hurt after they scampered for safety.

In the activity dubbed ‘wishes and dreams’, children expressed that they only really wanted to go back to their community. However, they are still hopeful for the government’s positive response to their grievances. At the same time, they were saddened by the fact that instead of rice and financial subsidy, they will return home with greater sorrow as a result of the violent dispersal, especially those who have relatives or neighbors killed, wounded or incarcerated.

Despite the horrible incident, most of the children were happy and have actively participated throughout the activity. The positive coping mechanism of the children and adults affected  by the violent dispersal could be attributed to the strong unity and unwavering commitment of the Kidapawan farmers to continue fighting for their claims. At the same time, the farmers have gained the support of local and even international human rights advocates and cause-oriented organizations.

Aside from the activity, Bonganay also helped Karapatan in conducting interview with the victims. However, due to time limitations, Bonganay was assigned to interview farmers who were staying inside the church compound. He didn’t had the chance to visit the minors who were detained by the police together with other farmers.